Safe weight loss after childbirth

Weight gain during pregnancy occurs because you’re growing another human and a placenta. Your blood volume also increases. Many women are concerned about losing that extra weight after childbirth.

Jade Elliott spoke with Martie Nightingale, certified nurse midwife with Intermountain Healthcare, who is also a plant-based endurance athlete and certified yoga instructor, to help answer your questions about how to lose weight safely after pregnancy.

Why does it seem like it takes a long time to return to your pre-pregnancy weight?

If you consider it takes nine months to gain the pregnancy weight, it makes sense it will take some time to lose it. If you’re a first-time mom, it’s helpful to know it takes a minimum of six weeks for your body to fully recover from childbirth, so have realistic expectations about weight loss. During the first six weeks, primary goals may include physical recovery, baby care and adjusting to being a new mom. Self-care is vital in the first few weeks and should include getting adequate sleep, minimizing stress, eating healthfully and hydrating. A focus on self-care and healthy lifestyle will often lead to a natural weight loss during the first few weeks.

Can breastfeeding help you lose weight?

According to research, breastfeeding helps with weight loss. Plus, breastfeeding is so healthy for babies. Babies who are breastfed have less risk for obesity, diabetes, and asthma. There are also antibodies in breastmilk that help prevent infections.

If you are breastfeeding, you need more calories and to stay hydrated

Here’s what’s recommended:

275 calories above normal if pregnant

500 calories above normal, if breastfeeding

75-80 grams additional protein if breastfeeding

Have a healthy snack with protein almost every time you breastfeed. You need approximately four liters of water per day to provide for your hydration as well as milk production needs.

You won’t get down to your pre-pregnancy weight when breastfeeding. Set realistic expectations. That last bit of weight may not come off until weaning. This is due to weight in the breasts and extra body weight and fluid to support breastfeeding.

Returning to exercise

By naturally returning to exercise, you’ll start to lose weight. During the initial two weeks after childbirth, limit exercise to gentle walking as you feel up to it. Pay attention to your postpartum bleeding and don’t over-exert. From two to six weeks postpartum, slowly integrate exercise like longer walks and gentle yoga. An incremental increase in exercise over six weeks is preferred to being sedentary for six weeks and then abruptly beginning exercise.

What kind of diets are best to help you lose weight?

Focus on eating a whole-foods plant-based (WFPB) diet that doesn’t include meat, dairy, or processed foods. The WFPB has been shown in research to result in the most weight loss when compared to other diets like Mediterranean or keto and has the best health outcomes, including lowest risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. Patients following a WFPB diet also report improved mood, increased energy and reduced constipation.

Try to limit processed foods and focus on increasing whole grains, and fresh vegetables and fruits. Enjoy a colorful diet of vegetables, fruits, grains, beans and legumes. Nutrition experts are talking about plant-based diets, where most of the protein you eat is plant-derived, and now there’s much more availability of plant-based proteins and recipes. Focus on including beans, legumes, tofu and tempeh, using meat substitutes and analogs only sparingly as they are processed foods.

Avoid diets that are a fad, or extreme diets that are not proven by research.

Where can women go for more information?

Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine 21 Day Kick-Start
Nutrition Facts
There are a variety of smart phone tracking Apps that can help you monitor healthy intake and/or activity.

The Baby Your Baby program provides many resources for all pregnant women and new moms in Utah. There is also expert advice from the Utah Department of Health and Intermountain Healthcare that air each week on KUTV 2News.